Amazon Travel to Compete with Expedia, Priceline

Travel Photo with Orange HatOnline travel industry news source, Skift.com,  is reporting Amazon’s entrance into the travel market. So far, it’s but a toe in the water for Amazon, with offerings only near major US cities and a handful of independent hotels with good reviews reported on TripAdvisor.com. Nonetheless, for those of us in the travel industry, having a new distribution opportunity from an entity with the might and muscle of Amazon is pretty big news, and something definitely worth watching as it unfolds!

Facts:

  • Who:
    • Independent hotels with good TripAdvisor ratings, with only a few places per city.
    • By Invitation Only. Amazon Travel is inviting a few independent hotels and resorts to participate. There is no online sign up area.
  • Where:
    • near major US cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and Dallas
  • When:
    • January 1, 2015
  • Why:
    • 15 percent commission vs. the average 25 percent rate paid to Expedia.
    • There are about 20 million members in Amazon Prime. Hotels can give special deals to Amazon that undercut the deals that they give to all OTAs, because these specials deals are offered just to Amazon’s Prime Members.
  • How:
    • Amazon already offers local deals at its local.amazon.com website; these travel deals are supposed to be another offering in that area of Amazon.
    • Pretty rudimentary booking procedures. Booking notifications will be via email, and hotels need to update their calendars on the Amazon extranet site.
    • Amazon gets paid first, then will pay the hotel in two payments, less its 15% commission

Stats for comparison:

  • Booking.com (owned by Priceline) has over 550,000 properties, including over 210,000 vacation rentals globally.
  • Expedia has over 300,000 hotels globally.
  • According to Seeking Alpha, Amazon has
    • 20 milllion Prime Members
    • Over 230 million active user accounts
    • About 80 million people using its website to shop each month

Amazon has ventured into the travel arena in the past:

  • With Expedia in 2001, when they partnered in an online travel store. This foray ended in a nasty breakup between Amazon and Expedia.
  • With SideStep (later acquired by Kayak) in 2006 which allowed searches in Amazon’s travel store for flights, hotels, car and vacation packages.

Google Hops Down from the Carousel and Shows Off Its Three Pack

Google is dropping the somewhat controversial carousel display of local search results, which was used for hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, in favor of a “three pack” of top ranked organic listings.

The Carousel hasn’t been very popular with SEO experts who had difficulty figuring out how the Carousel could change the way users searched for businesses. It was also unpopular with the businesses themselves, as the business owners couldn’t control which image would be used for the display. The Carousel never even launched in Europe.

The new three pack looks like this, appearing BELOW the AdWords results (the Carousel appeared above AdWords):

 

Google Three Pack Example

Example of Google’s New Search Results with the 3-Pack Listing replacing the Carousel.

The three featured destinations are ranked by Google, using algorithms. Hotels will have their pricing and review results listed in the three pack listing, along with a calendar feature allowing the searcher to check on availability. Night club and restaurant results are similar, with reviews and price points. The ”More” link takes the user to a page of local results, along with an interactive Google map.

The  great improvement the three pack delivers for hotels is that by clicking on one of the featured listings, the user will be taken to a business profile page, something very similar to the Google Knowledge Graph panel. The business panel appears at the top of the new page, along with alternative photos, reviews and a Google map. If the hotel offers online booking, the user is able to start the booking process directly from that page.

For now, the three pack results will only appear in PC queries, not mobile.

This new display result gives users an easy way to navigate the top listings in the category they are searching for, while still feeling integrated into Google search; the features can make the booking process nearly seamless.

This improvement should be much more popular than the Carousel, especially for those whose organic results place them in the top three!

Showcase Your Vacation Rental or Real Estate Listing with a Floor Plan

Adding a floor plan of your vacation rental to show potential guests generates a measurable improvement in your number of bookings.
TruPlace, formerly Mouse on House, commissioned an independent study of over 1,400 vacation rentals that demonstrates a 97% increase in revenue from bookings for properties using their interactive floor plan tours. The amount of time it took to book the property also was measurably shorter. Likewise, at Blizzard, we find that properties with interactive floor plan tours on their property pages generate more revenue.
floor plans increase reservations

The reservation revenue per property for properties with interactive floor plan tours was 97% higher than for those properties without floor plan tours.

virtual tours and floor plans

The booking lead time for properties with interactive floor plan tours is 12 days shorter than for properties without tours.

What the study could not measure was the cost savings in phone calls. The number of phone calls that it took to book the property was presumably smaller, because anyone with questions about the layout of the property was able to find out the answer to their question online. Let’s look at why this is the case. Your goal is to get reservations. Once someone finds your website, how can you turn a looker into a booker? The websites that anticipate the traveler’s questions, and answer them, get more reservations.
Travelers’ questions:

  • Where is it located, exactly?
  • What’s the place like?
  • How much is it?

When it comes to what is the place like, getting a bird’s eye view of the floor plan answers that question in  a split second. In a glance, your potential guests can answer such questions as:

  • How noisy does it look like it will be?
  • Where can I watch TV in the middle of the night without waking up my family?
  • Where will I be relative to the kids? The other people we are staying with?
  • Does my room have a view?
  • Where is the balcony/deck relative to my bedroom? Relative to the kitchen?
  • What is the kitchen like?
  • Are there stairs?
  • How many bathrooms are there and where are they?

Real-Estate-Floor-Plan-Vacation-Rental

What’s the difference between an interactive floor plan tour and a 360 virtual tour?

An interactive floor plan is a floor plan that is clickable. It combines still photography with a floor plan of the entire property so that the visitor can have a high level view and navigate through the home. A 360 virtual tour combines videos or still images in order to provide a simulation of walking through a location.

Interactive floor plan tours can be made just from architectural floor plan renderings; the property does not need to be built yet. Also they are mobile friendly and load more quickly than 360 virtual tours.

360 virtual tours, on the other hand, can provide  a full 360 degree view of the rooms, and if when done correctly, are more entertaining content to put on your website.

Unlike videos and 360 virtual tours, a floor plan gives the traveler a great deal of information in a single glance. That is not to say, however, that videos and 360 virtual tours do not do well. Everyone likes to be entertained. However, if you have videos or 360 virtual tours, make sure that they are actually entertaining; or your potential guest will quickly grow weary of watching them!

Having entertaining content on your website, such as videos and 360 virtual tours, can increase your website traffic and the amount of time that people spend on your site. These are good indicators for Google and can increase your website’s position in search results. Having floor plans and interactive floor plans on your website can help potential guests decide whether to book a specific property. For that reason, interactive floor plan tours can generate more revenue than 360-virtual tours, because the potential guest can click on the floor plan and quickly answer many of the questions that they have.

Do you have a property owner who wants more bookings? Ask them if they are willing to pay for an interactive floor plan tour.

Microsites for Vacation Rental Managers – A Warning

I regularly get asked by vacation rental managers about starting a second or third website to promote their business.  It seems they usually want to be told it is a good idea and that it will help them in Google.  Typically microsites are a dangerous distraction and should be approached carefully.

There are two reasons why a microsite may not be a good idea:

  1. Google  doesn’t want you to create multiple websites selling the same stuff.  Many of their algorithm changes over the last few years have been targeted and penalizing websites that are not unique and valuable.
  2. Most VRMs struggle to make their primary website perform at a high level.  Why spread yourself even thinner and create a second website?  Focus on making your primary website better optimized, more user friendly and more content rich!

What is a a Microsite in the Vacation Rental Manager’s World?  It could run the gamut of large to small, but here are the general ones I hear about: [Read more…]

Now You Can Watch A Full-Day Marketing Seminar from Your Desk

On Sunday October 9th, Trent Blizzard presented a full day online marketing seminar.  It was chock-full of timely and important marketing tips for travel marketers.

We are making the full video available on Monday October 31st.  You can order it for the small investment of $50.  It will be available “on-demand” so you can watch it at your desk and at your leisure.

Topics Included:

  • Google +1 is a promising new feature from Google that is still being developed.  Learn what it can do for you now and what strategies to implement in 2012 to achieve maximum benefit.
  • Custom Facebook Apps and Tabs: A review of the nifty, convenient and seductive world of Facebook custom tabs.  The real pros are using these to turn their Facebook page into a second website that can turn lookers into bookers.  Bonus: Blizzard will give each attendee a free Facebook App. ($250 value)*
  • Facebook Pay-Per-Click Marketing: Learn how to take advantage of Facebook’s PPC program to increase your ‘Likes’ and steal mind-share from your competitors.
  • Top Facebook Tips: The top 10 tips for getting new fans and engaging with your current ones.
  • Link Building is still going strong.  Learn about recent changes and how Google uses links in its algorithm. Bonus: Blizzard will give you 10 great links that will drive qualified traffic ($250 value)*
  • Website Load Time: Learn how your website’s speed… or slowness… is being factored into Google’s algorithm.  Find out how to measure your speed, track it in Google Analytics, and what simple steps can improve it.
  • Schema: Learn about the new coding directives that Google, Bing and Yahoo! rolled out in June, 2011 and how you can take advantage to help Google index your website.
  • The Changing World of Online Reviews: Google has changed how they index your reviews and your strategies should change accordingly. Learn the best way to get more out of your current reviews and where to drive new reviews.
  • Google Analytics: Learn about all of the changes and new features that have happened to Google Analytics in the last year that will help you to measure your growth and success.
  • Email Marketing: Learn some easy tricks and discover a few powerful tools to capture more email addresses, and get more out of your existing email marketing efforts.
  • Vacation Rental Marketing Benchmarks and Stats: Learn how your website compares to industry benchmarks using BlizzardTracker.
  • Booking Engine Effectiveness: Increase your conversion rates by implementing 10 proven features.
  • New Online Tools: Discover cool new tools to track your results, monitor your competitors, increase your effectiveness or just plain have fun.
  • $50 to watch the video-on-demand at your leisure.
  • The video is free for current Blizzard clients.

 

 

 

Google Plus for Business – First Glance

The early iterations of Google Plus are interesting to watch, but Google Plus is still only a curiosity from a business standpoint.  Not only is there not a business offering, Google has warned businesses not to setup a Google+ account for your business.

Officially, Blizzard recommends you wait a bit longer on Google+… but read on for more specific instructions.

That said, it is easy to imagine how a business could use the existing functionality to build a business page and create a circle of “friends” and clients to communicate with.  Right off the bat the Hangouts feature is a promising business tool.  Blizzard tested Hangouts this morning with a video conference call and it worked great.  It was an easy tool for a bunch of Blizzard employees and clients to get together at an appointed time and have a discussion.  Hangouts allowed just audio or audio + video.  Additionally, any user can share their screen.  Hangouts is limited to 10 people AND the organizer of the conference can’t control it. In this sense, GoToMeeting is a much better option for a more push-type presentation.  Here is a short video from Google:

We recommend that you:

  1. Get a GooglePlus (or Google+ if you prefer, I use them interchangeably) account for your personal business just to acquaint yourself with how it works.  Read Google + for Newbies if you want some great tips.
  2. Try the “Hangout” feature to see if you like it for business meetings with remote colleagues.
  3. Add the +1 button to your website, parallel to the “LIKE” button so early +1 users can start using it. Click here for directions on adding the +1 button to your website.
  4. Watch for the Google Plus business offering.

Google has released a first-glance at its new Google Plus Business Page with a demo by Ford Motors:

Hopefully, pages like this will be made available to all business soon!  Of course, it will be one more thing your social media and SEO marketing team will have to deal with. Sigh.

 

Google Places May Be More Important Than You Think

A fascinating eye-tracking study was released by SEOMoz today that is worth paying attention to. The eye-tracking research shows how eyes moved through Google search results and posted several “heat maps” of the results.  These results included Google Places and Google map data that is currently being “blended” into the search results by Google.  The conclusions Blizzard draws for hotel and lodging websites are not new:

  • How you look when you do rank is very important.  A lower ranking with a great looking search results can really deliver.
  • Because so many lodging related searches are “local searches”, your Google Places becomes increasing important because Google uses Google Places data to “enhance” a simple search result with red map icons and review info.

This is something we spoke about a few months ago when we got excited about how Google Places was giving individual hotel websites a big boost over Expedia and TripAdvisor in Google’s own search results.  The bottom line is that lodging companies should work to improve the visual appeal of their search results.  This will encourage the consumer to actually look and see your listing when he or she searches.  Practically speaking, this means working to improve your presence in Google Places.

I encourage you to visit the SEOMoz post to look at more, but here is an example: